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Friday, May 8, 3:30 pm

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Mapping Climate Change Exposure, Sensitivity, and Adaptive Capacity in the Metropolitan Boston Region
Presenter: Caitlin Spence, Metropolitan Area Planning Council

Lead Author: Seleeke Flingai, PhD, Research Analyst II, MAPC


Jessie Partridge-Guerrero, Research Manager, MAPC

Timothy Reardon, Data Services Director, MAPC

Ryan Kelly, Digital Services Manager, MAPC

Annabelle Thomas Taylor, Front End Web Developer, MAPC

Matt Zagaja, J.D., Lead Civic Web Developer, MAPC

Brad Smith, Dana Farber Cancer Institute (Formerly Full Stack Developer, MAPC)

Climate change impacts stem from not just physical location, but also social conditions. Individuals and communities vary in terms of exposure to climate hazards, sensitivity to stressors, and resources available to respond and adapt. Consequently, climate change threatens to intensify existing inequities in the metropolitan Boston region. In order to better understand and respond to climate change, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) synthesized indicators related to public health, population demographics, housing characteristics, mobility, access to financial resources, information access, and evolving physical hazards to create census tract-level climate vulnerability indices for 101 cities and towns in the metropolitan Boston region ( The analysis was conducted with input from local climate justice organizations, government agencies, and academic subject matter experts.

The resulting climate change vulnerability maps highlight areas where physical exposure to climate risks is likely to be compounded by high levels of sensitivity to chronic or acute climate stressors and limited resources for recovery or adaptation. The analysis is presented as an interactive data visualization portal that allows users to explore connections between individual vulnerability and resilience indicators. The data visualizations are accompanied by the full spatial dataset, technical documentation, and a comment box through which visitors may submit feedback and initiate collaboration. While the maps cannot comprehensively identify all vulnerable areas within the metropolitan region, they initiate regional and local conversations and provide a platform for building knowledge on regional climate vulnerability.

This analysis highlights the understanding that reducing vulnerability to climate hazards is not only about changing the physical environment, but also requires investments in building individual capacity and social resources. By building regional understanding of the social and physical mechanisms that drive vulnerability and create resilience, MAPC aims to support governments, philanthropic organizations, and community development organizations in taking action where and how it is most needed.

Wicked Hot Boston: Engaging Communities in Assessing and Building Resilience to Extreme Heat Through Science-to-Civics
Presenter: David Sittenfeld, Boston Museum of Science

Lead Author:

David Sittenfeld, Manager, Forums & National Collaborations, Museum of Science, Boston


Sara Benson (Museum of Science)

Katie Baur (Museum of Science)

Brian Helmuth (Northeastern University Marine Science Center)

Francis Choi (Northeastern University Marine Science Center)

Darlene Cavalier (SciStarter)

Caroline Nickerson (SciStarter)

Extreme heat presents increasing public health and urban infrastructural challenges. Boston currently experiences approximately 11 days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit each summer -projected to increase to between 25 and 90 days by 2070. The National Weather Service recorded 15 days above 90°F in Boston in 2019, a 4.7 degree increase from 1980-2010 average. Members of the project team collaborated with civic and community partners in the summer of 2019 to assess impacts of extreme heat and the urban heat island effect through community-based participatory research, also known as citizen science. Our campaign, nicknamed “Wicked Hot Boston,” connected community science to deliberative resilience planning activities about extreme heat. We developed a theoretical “science-to-civics” framework connecting low-threshold citizen science projects to more intense investigations and facilitated community conversations about potential resilience strategies and their tradeoffs, engaging diverse communities in participatory science activities. Approximately 100 community members contributed quantitative and qualitative observations of their neighborhoods during extreme heat events throughout the summer using an online citizen science portal called ISeeChange. We then engaged over 50 citizen scientists in urban heat island mapping in Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline, collecting data during late July at three time periods along routes designed in collaboration with community members, civic planners and national subject matter experts. These observations informed the creation of high-resolution spatially modeled heat map products that were presented to community and civic planners. These maps provide communities with high resolution products of morning, day, and evening temperatures which can then be layered with other factors such as tree canopy, income level, elderly population, or emergency room visits to assess social vulnerabilities and disparities. A late September community forum shared results from the heat mapping, visualizations of the ISeeChange observations, and facilitated deliberative discussions to engage over 100 participants in participatory resilience planning about mitigation strategies for extreme heat events. Forum participants deliberated about the tradeoffs of potential strategies such as vegetative urban landscapes, enhancing engineered infrastructures to protect them from heat vulnerabilities, and increasing preparedness and public accessibility to cool areas during extreme heat events and viewed visualizations created by the Northeastern University Marine Science Center, making recommendations about building community resilience. The outcomes of the citizen science activities and the recommendations from participants have been shared with local planners; the campaign was highlighted in the recent update to the Climate Ready Boston report.

Wicked Hot Boston was the first pilot phase for a larger project that is expanding nationally to address four climate hazards over the next two years. In partnership with SciStarter, Arizona State University, Northeastern University, and the National Informal Science Education Network, MOS is leading a NOAA-funded project called Citizen Science, Civics, and Resilient Communities (CSCRC) to engage public participants in these science-to-civics activities at 28 US sites. In this second year of the project, 8 science centers around the country will prototype science-to-civics activities about extreme heat, extreme precipitation, drought, and sea level rise, before the project expands to 20 other US science centers in the project’s third and culminating year.

Tools and Data Sets for Local Decarbonization Strategies
Presenter: Michael Walsh, Cadmus, Boston University

Lead Author:

Michael Walsh, Senior Associate, The Cadmus Group; Research Assistant Professor, Earth and Environment, Boston University

As cities, towns and other institutions pursue decarbonization targets there is a growing need for data and tools to understand their greenhouse gas footprint and develop decarbonization strategies. Identifying the right tools and data sets can help sustainability practitioners more readily preform such analyses. However, lack of familiarity with such data sets and tools often hinders their widespread use.

This talk will review some of the tools and datasets used in the Carbon Free Analysis and by the Cadmus Group in its support of local government’s decarbonization strategies. For example, we will demonstrate how we used Boston’s tax assessors, construction permit and Building Energy Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO) databases to assess the City’s various district energy systems, evaluate the rate of heat pump and solar panel installs, and segment Boston’s building stock. The talk will also review various publicly available tools used to evaluate electric vehicle policies (MA3T), electric vehicle support needs (EVI-Pro), building energy performance (BE-OPT) and others.

Finally, this talk will discuss how data and forecasting tools can be used to create forward looking decarbonization studies with stakeholder input. Oftentimes climate action planning becomes an exercise in model-dial turning. This talk will present an alternative framework for such studies by focusing on how practitioners can use these tools to illustrate necessary systems changes to key stakeholder groups.

Dr. Michael Jay Walsh is a Senior Associate at Cadmus in Boston and holds a Research Assistant Professor appointment in the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University. He served as the technical lead for the Carbon Free Boston report at Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy. He is currently leading and advising several local and state level decarbonization studies within the region.

Partnering PhD Students with Stakeholders to Tackle Urban Environmental Challenges
Presenter: Evan Kuras, Boston University

Lead Author:

Evan Kuras, BU URBAN Graduate Program Manager, Boston University


Sarabeth Buckley

Catherine Connolly

Luca Morreale

David Reynolds

Lucy Hutyra

Jonathan Levy

Pamela Templer

Cities face complex environmental challenges that require innovative tools and partnerships. Universities increasingly emphasize solutions-oriented research, but often lack the infrastructure and insight necessary to address the challenges faced by cities in a way that is actionable. This can be addressed through collaborative co-generation of knowledge, but forming effective partnerships between researchers and stakeholders (including community groups, non-governmental organizations, private companies, and municipal decision-makers) is no easy task due to limited time and resources and differences in institutional cultures. The Boston University Graduate Program in Urban Biogeoscience and Environmental Health (BU URBAN) helps cities tackle complex environmental challenges by integrating partnerships into the PhD training model. URBAN trainees gain fundamental training in interdisciplinary scientific research and engage in stakeholder partnerships to solve time-sensitive problems together.

In this presentation, we highlight three examples in which PhD trainees helped municipalities and institutions use public resources more efficiently, improve indoor and ambient environmental quality, and understand population health with greater precision. First, a trainee collaborated with the Town of Arlington (MA) to create a more systematic method for selecting street-tree planting sites, combining a comprehensive street-tree inventory with other municipal data and GIS layers to yield a site-suitability ranking for all potential tree-planting sites. Using this ranking, Arlington can maximize carbon sequestration, urban heat island mitigation, and other ecosystem services provided by street-trees. Second, trainees worked with facilities staff at BU to evaluate the potential for green roofs on the BU campus, specifically considering whether elevated carbon dioxide in classrooms could be vented to improve growth of rooftop plants, thereby both decreasing indoor air quality issues associated with student academic performance and cognition and increasing the viability of green roofs. Finally, a trainee partnered with Biobot Analytics, a startup company in Boston that works with city governments and deploys sensors within the sewer system, to analyze urban wastewater data to gain insight into environmental and population health. The objective of the project was to develop a rigorous statistical framework using Bayesian techniques to translate analyte measurements provided by sensors into consumption estimates by people.

These successful partnerships show how universities can collaborate with other actors in the civic data ecosystem to solve complex challenges. PhD students increasingly seek opportunities to engage in solutions-oriented research, and the BU URBAN training model fulfills this desire while providing a resource to non-academic partners. Our model is generalizable to other topics and settings, and these collaborative partnerships can help transform our cities into healthier, more sustainable places.

Moderator: Amy Longsworth, Boston Green Ribbon Commission